For ten years of Ioana Holt's childhood, she was a dancer. She had a very disciplined life - a strict regimen - but now she is hoping to find a better balance of work and play. Her desire is to have this experience earnestly translate into her business. With her beautiful smile, displaying the most adorable dimples, she exclaimed, "People should feel and eat healthy...but, every so often, splurge."
Ioana arrived in New York from Romania, in 2012. As she shared her story, I was absolutely mesmerized. She had grown up on a farm surrounded by animals, including thousands of sheep, as well as multiple vegetable and flower gardens. Her favorite garden was filled with spectacular roses that her mother tended to each year. In addition to the farmland, her family owned several restaurants. There is no doubt in my mind that she is experienced in every aspect of running a business, for, as she told it, "I always worked, even as a very young girl."
It was difficult to keep Ioana's life straight as she enthusiastically continued. She speaks seven languages, has a degree in chemistry, worked in a chocolate shop in Austria, but at the age of twenty, she made the bold decision to come to the United States to attend college. She landed at New York University.
It was there that she met William. As the two recounted, one day Ioana was drawn to a smell emanating from somewhere down the hall. She followed the scent and knocked on the door. When William opened it, an instant friendship formed, since the two realized that they had similar passions for experimenting with food.
For a time, Ioana was attending classes in the morning, working as a waitress in the evening, and then going home and baking into the wee hours of the night. Eventually, she decided to take a leave of absence from NYU and devote her time to her true passion - cooking. Initially, she was selling home-made truffles online, but then something in her clicked: "I said to myself, 'to hell with it, I just want to do this.' I want to work with people and make them happy."
It was also around that time that Ioana and William reconnected. One day, when they were grabbing a cup of coffee, Ioana gave William a chocolate. When he asked where it was from, she told him that she had made it...and then proceeded to explain her business plan to create a healthy dessert bar. To her wonderful surprise, William said, "I'm in." A few months later, they had secured a lease on a space with a small, secret garden in the back, ordered the necessary equipment, and began creating a cozy environment that would allow people to escape into a warm sweets-filled "home" for a little while.
In the intimate space, which opened in 2016, there are small, wrought-iron round white tables, chairs with a rose motif carved in the center, a comfy couch, a few stools towards the back, and silk roses on the ceiling. Every detail has been carefully thought out by Ioana. When I pointed to a charming watercolor hanging above the couch, Ioana simply said, "Oh I painted that." Of course she did, for I believe that there is nothing this remarkable young woman cannot do.
When I accompanied Ioana to the immaculate kitchen in the back, where she creates her magic, I learned that she makes her own butter and cheese from products on a farm upstate. What she cannot find in New York, her mom sends to her from Romania - including the dried roses from their garden that she vacuum seals and ships for Ioana to use in her many Eastern European recipes.
The Manhattan Sideways Team highly recommends tasting one of the Ioana's remarkable baked goods, or sitting down for a glass of tea or cup of coffee, but stopping by Rose and Basil is worthwhile simply to meet its energetic owner. She has found the true meaning of success by following her dream and, at the age of twenty-four, opening her own precious shop. As a big grin came across her face, Ioana mused, "To me, this place feels like my husband, my kids, and even my grandkids, all rolled into one." And she could not be happier.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
When life brought Chef Ali Sahin from Turkey to the USA, his first American address was in the East Village. Though he studied economics back home, in New York City he worked in restaurants, first as a bus boy and eventually as a cook. When he decided food was something he might want to turn into a career, he went to culinary school to learn essential techniques, such as how to prepare the perfect egg, something Ali told me chefs love to talk about but few dare to actually serve in their restaurants. C& B (“Coffee and Breakfast”) Café serves eggs all day long - really good eggs - along with other brunch plates. The chef uses his small kitchen to its fullest potential, even going so far as to make sausages in house, and hopefully one day his own cheese. On the afternoon that the Manhattan Sideways team visited, Ali arranged a beautiful bowl of chicken and eggs, one of the café’s top selections. The slow-poached eggs, each cooked for over an hour, and the flavorful shredded chicken with potatoes and toast perfectly captured the café’s fine dining approach. They enjoyed each bite of the colorful dish while Mr. Brown, “The Espresso King, ” crafted beautiful lattes, teas, and pour-over coffees for customers working at the communal table in the back of the shop. Ali told us that all thirteen of the C& B menu items are created using only seasonal, local ingredients, which is why he never serves avocados. To Ali, sourcing is the most important part of cooking. He explained that while growing up in Turkey, all his food came from provincial farmer’s markets, as there were no supermarkets in the region. With that in mind, he modeled his café after one of his old East Village haunts and one of his favorite cafes in LA that serves solely organic fare. East Village dwellers appreciate Ali’s vision: the café opened in January 2015 but already boasts a large number of repeat customers. Ali takes the time to get to know the regulars and has really helped C& B to take root in the neighborhood. The walls of the café are adorned with paintings from community artists and even some of the cafe’s staff. Ali drew the café’s logo himself to reflect the leaves of the American Elm Trees growing across the street in Tompkins Square Park. Serving the most important meal of the day all day, while emphasizing healthy, wholesome ingredients, C& B Café is gearing up to become a new neighborhood favorite.
Abraco Espresso started in a little nook on the other side of the street before it moved to its current larger space in 2016. The shop invites coffee lovers to stop by and enjoy a fresh brewed cup - according to many it might be one of the best you will ever experience. The space is perfect for those who wish to gather round and chat or just to savor their sweet homemade treats along with the exceptional coffee.
Do not be deterred by the bottleneck entrance, just continue walking toward the back where there is a welcoming outdoor courtyard that is always open, and heated in winter. The coat of warm, red paint on the walls, the rock and jazz music playing in the background, and the fireplace make this a cozy place to settle in with friends. The steaming cup of coffee, heaping with frothed milk, is smooth and light, exceeding all expectations. If you are as taken with their blend as we are, they package and sell their own beans. When we dined here our brunch was fresh and delicious, served with hearty bread, rice and beans.
The strong smell of coffee permeates the air in this specialty shop. Potato sacks line the shelves, filled to the brim with dark beans that can be scooped up and ground to order. Thirty years of coffee dust lingers and everything caffeinated fills this rustic shop – teabags, chocolate, coffee, more coffee. The original location, on Bleecker Street, has been providing java lovers with beans since 1907.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.
The folks at Spot Dessert Bar are mavericks of dessert. With desserts specially created by the Iron Chef of Thailand, Ian Kittichai, and Mark Lee, the managing partner, the eatery offers each of its customers an astounding tour of taste. The dessert tapas themselves are a blend of eastern and western flavors inspired by Chef Kittichai’s travels around the world. While speaking with Mark, we learned that the little desserts are called “tapas, ” not because of the size, but because the idea is to order a few and share. Along with dessert tapas, Spot serves cupcakes, macarons, cookies, and bubble tea. They truly have something for everyone especially with the addition of new dairy-free and gluten-free options. The desserts change based on the seasons and we were lucky to be able to try the new fall menu as well as their signature dishes, and each one was a delightful surprise. Their two best sellers are the Golden Toast, with honey butter, condensed milk ice cream, and strawberries, and the Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake, a soft dark chocolate cake with green tea ganache and green tea ice cream. The Golden Toast was warm with a flaky, soft interior, while the Chocolate Lava Cake was one of the best the Manhattan Sideways team had ever tasted, perfectly heated and well paired with the strong matcha flavor. Mark told us that it is also one of the top 10 most Instagrammed foods in NYC, which we did not find surprising, since each dish is a piece of art. The fall desserts were all equally tasty and creative—The gluten-free matcha cremeux with its toasted rice ice cream was unexpected and simply delicious. The vegan Coconut Monkey bread was light, fluffy, and topped with coconut ice cream with basil seeds. The real stand out was the Black Truffle savory dessert. None of the Manhattan Sideways team had ever had anything like it. It consists of black truffle, hazelnut dacquoise, and apricot sauce, and was the clear winner, especially for those without a strong sweet tooth. We drifted between different desserts as Mark told us more about Spot’s future plans and his experience with the company. Mark started as a server at Spot, which opened five years ago, and now is part-owner. He originally worked in magazine design and now puts his aesthetic eye to good use on the culinary design of Spot. He is inspired by everything—restaurant uniforms, menus, interior décor, and other aspects. Mark informed us that Spot is planning on expanding a few stores down. At first, the company used the space as a take-out café, but wanted to stay true to the dine-in nature of the original. Mark wants “customers to feel cozy when they come to Spot, ” and so will decorate the addition in a very similar way. We agreed that the wood-panelling and warm interior is very homey, creating a perfect atmosphere in which to fill up on dessert.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over. There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world, ” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly. This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.